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Editorial: Bring Financial Transparency to Vanderbilt

November 17, 2011
Vanderbilt Hustler

Last year, The Hustler reported that Vanderbilt was negotiating with the United Arab Emirates — a country notorious for Holocaust denial, institutionalized homophobia and subjugation of women — to build a university there using Vanderbilt’s expertise, resources and prestigious name. The potential payoff was steep, and it begged some important questions: What is Vanderbilt willing to do for money, and where do ethics fit into that equation?

We have received no update on the status of negotiations with the UAE, but recent controversy regarding Vanderbilt’s investment with London-based hedge-fund Emergent Asset Management calls Vanderbilt’s institutional morality into question for the second time in only a matter of months.

As a nonprofit tax-exempt university, it goes without saying Vanderbilt needs to hold itself to a higher ethical standard than other investors. The Hustler believes that an informed community is necessary to ensure that those who control Vanderbilt’s purse strings adhere to this standard. As such, the lack of transparency surrounding the African land grab issue is unacceptable. Our administrators owe it to the student body to be more open about the University’s investment with Emergent, as well as Vanderbilt’s future business dealings and investments. 

The land grab controversy began over the summer when the Oakland Institute, a California-based policy think tank, released a report accusing Emergent — and, by extension, Vanderbilt — of engaging in large scale buy-ups of African farmland at the socio-economic expense of local communities and subsistence farmers. 

According to an internal investigation carried out by the Vanderbilt faculty senate, the University’s African investment is socially and ethically acceptable. 

The Hustler does not have the information or resources to confidently side with either the Oakland Institute or the faculty senate. The student body at large is even less equipped to do so. We do not know the exact size of Vanderbilt’s stake in Emergent, the findings of any research that Vanderbilt has done on the fund, or the nature of communication between our administrators and Emergent’s managers. 

This is because Vanderbilt, even as it conducts closed-door investigations, refuses to make this information public. Students are attempting to have a conversation about the way Vanderbilt does business, but the University seems to have closed the issue without joining the conversation. Simply put, Vanderbilt administrators are failing to adequately address student concerns about the University’s investment with Emergent.

It seems as if the administration is hoping that the African issue will just go away, if only they ignore it long enough. They are counting on apathy among the student body — and, as the UAE controversy illustrated, apathy has come to their defense before. 

Until Vanderbilt becomes more financially transparent, however, similar ethical concerns will continue to arise. The Hustler encourages our administration to change course and be more forthcoming about the African investment and other pertinent issues in the coming weeks. Students, after all, are Vanderbilt’s customers. We deserve to know where the money goes.

Editorials are written by and represent the views of The Hustler Editorial Board.